County pushes for progress on uptown baseball stadium

If approved, the new baseball stadium would be built on land in Charlotte's Third Ward.

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by April Bethea / Charlotte Observer

April Bethea / Charlotte Observer

Posted on March 23, 2011 at 8:24 AM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 23 at 8:25 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Mecklenburg commissioners said Tuesday they want more assurances about the Charlotte Knights' long-delayed plans for a Third Ward stadium before they'll consider whether to extend a lease agreement for the ballpark.

Some members said they're not ready to walk away from the project, but they want to see some progress. The latest ballpark plan was pitched five years ago, but the team still hasn't finalized its financing.

"I think we need to know this train is going to be coming out of the station if we're going to extend this lease," said Commissioner Neil Cooksey.

The board asked its economic development committee to work with the Knights to map out what the team will need to show commissioners before any changes to the lease can be made. That could include setting deadlines on when the team could have financing lined up and a construction start date.

The board will weigh the project again by the end of the summer.

Timing is key, because the team's current lease with the county calls for the planned stadium to be "substantially" or 90 percent completed by September. And there's no way the team will meet that deadline.

Knights General Manager Dan Rajkowski said Tuesday the soonest the team might be able to move into a new stadium would be 2013. But a lot would have to happen before then.

"The goal is to bring this team, to bring this business here to bring these jobs here as soon as we possibly can," he said.

The Knights are a triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox and currently play in Fort Mill.

Tuesday's meeting marked the first time most on the current board have discussed the baseball deal. Only four of the commissioners were on the board in early 2008, when the stadium lease was approved.

The deal calls for the Knights to pay $1 annually for up to 99 years to lease about eight acres of county land. The 10,000-seat stadium is planned for land bounded by South Graham, West Fourth and South Mint streets and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The deal has been stalled for a number of reasons, primarily the economy and lawsuits filed by an attorney who wants the city to build a major-league stadium uptown.

Rajkowski said that commitment letters for naming sponsorships have expired and the amount of money some partners might be able to provide has dropped. He said the deals aren't dead, but the team is working under different conditions.

Commissioner Dumont Clarke said he thinks the stadium would be good for uptown, and its construction could create jobs. But he stressed that given the economic environment, the team can't expect the county to provide money or resources beyond what's already called for in the lease.

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